To the casual observer, this whole Free Leonard Peltier operation seems to be the ultimate in mass market, consumer culture activism. We have Leonard Peltier bumper stickers, Leonard Peltier rallies, even a few Leonard Peltier newsletters. An enormous group of people whose whole purpose in life seems to be getting others to jump on the Free Leonard Peltier bandwagon. We also have a nation with hundreds of thousands of college students who are apparently too busy or lazy to find a fresh, new issue to fight for, something that hasn't already been cycled through the mass consciousness a few dozen times. Put the two together, and we have a whole "grass-roots" movement being eagerly snatched off the shelf by new clueless people every day.

People I've asked about their stickers (one friend and one acquaintance) both answered differently, but were on equally shaky ground regarding their convictions. The acquaintance said she had gotten the sticker with a flier from a group handing them out on campus, and thought it sounded like a good cause, so she put the sticker on her car. When questioned further about Leonard Peltier, she didn't have much of a clue about the case or the reasons it is important, and admitted having mostly forgotten the pamphlet's contents. The friend, when asked the same thing, towed the same company line that you find on most websites. Blah blah political prisoner, blah blah unfair trial, blah blah Native rights, etc. I asked him where he got all of his knowledge, and he couldn't name one single unbiased source. Not one! No national newspaper articles, no court records, not even a TV newsmagazine report. He thought he knew all of these "facts" about the case, but they all had the official Leonard Peltier Liberation Front slant on the issue. Quite depressing, really.

At any rate, my point isn't that Leonard Peltier deserves to have been imprisoned for the last twenty-five years, I'm not in a position to make that judgment as I don't know that much about the case. My point is that even though all of us want to make the world a better place, we should make sure we know exactly what we are talking about and what difference we can make before we start. Otherwise, we run the risk of looking like uninformed zealots glomming on to any popular activist cause simply for the sake of fighting against something. We run the risk of diluting what could be an important message with what is a "me too" bandwagon approach.

People shouldn't endorse causes that they don't understand, but what is the bar you're setting for understanding? Do I have to have read the court records to support Peltier? Maybe one of those "unbiased" national newspaper articles you mention (unbiased media? Don't make me laugh!). The New York Times is no less biased than some crudely mimeographed left-wing propaganda pamphlet, they're just more subtle about it. See Noam Chomsky. And sometimes, in the absence of mainstream coverage of an issue, propaganda is one's only source of information. The more times people say Peltier's name, the less he is forgotten, the greater the chance he will get out of jail before he is an old man. It is not a "bandwagon", it's justice (ie. a fair trial, with untainted evidence!), and a man's life. If you don't understand that concept, stop making smug declarations about a movement's "authenticity". The activists are just trying to make sure you (or you, or maybe you over there!) are not the next Leonard Peltier. Remember, in an unjust system, nobody is safe.

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